‘Biggest Organized Gang of Criminals’

Sanjay Kapoor

There is so much fear and loathing for the police that it is difficult to say anything charitable about them. Bollywood films have captured their rapacious nature and the manner in which they protect the corrupt ruling elite in cities, towns and villages. The police bring in extraordinary brutality in the way they go about their jobs.  In 1950, Justice Anand Narain Mullah called the police the “biggest organized gang of criminals”. The Mullah Commission Report on police reforms was never implemented. Much of the criticism is true; they are listed in police reforms reports. What is not reported is the ‘back story’ that feeds their inherited ugliness, right from colonial times.

During an interaction with a police official from UP, I was aghast to hear the ‘lawless’ way cops are compelled to maintain law and order in their respective areas. “The district police seldom have money to buy fuel for vehicles. So the police cars go to the oil bunk and get their tanks filled up for free. If we don’t get free oil then we cannot police. So even if we know that the bunk owner is adulterating fuel, we have to look the other way,” he said, candidly. 

This is just a starter. Most FIRs, according to this official, are filed only after accepting a bribe, which are meant not just for feathering their nests, but for more scandalous reasons. Most of these thanas don’t have the money to run their affairs. What is budgeted for them never comes on time, and even if it does, it isn’t enough. So there is no money to feed those in a police lock-up or even give them a sheet to cover themselves. “Those who have integrity take bribes to meet these small expenses,” the senior cop said.

The pathologically corrupt accept bribes for registering an FIR as well as booking the innocent. The Station House Officer (SHO) has the responsibility of running the thana and at times making provision for staff salaries. “All the constables work for the SHO, who is raising funds all the time. If you call up the SHO, you will always find him in the thana. He seldom takes leave. It may sound uncharitable, but the police top brass know that the SHO is the cutting edge of the force and the burden is on him for ‘ugai’ – to raise money.” 

Although the central government gives Rs 800 crore per year for modernization, there is little to show on the ground. “If the wall of a police station falls, or something happens, then the contractor has to organize the resources on his own. Sometimes he has to visit the state capital to lobby for increased allocation for construction at these broken buildings. The living and work conditions of most cops are abysmal,” said the official.

Similar stories have emerged repeatedly from the North-east. Dalits, minorities, the poor — they are almost always eternal victims of police atrocities and organized injustice. The government has been asked by the Supreme Court to reform the police force, but it has shown little attempt to make it a professional, modern and efficient force that is humane, pro-citizen and has respect for the rule of law

The challenging circumstances in which the police have to perform means that there is little time, inclination or competence to undertake serious investigations. Invariably, whoever has the money gets an FIR registered against his or her opponent. People get released from jail or lock-ups after they have been able to collect enough ‘ransom’ money. When a person is not able to organize money for her/his release, then, often, the police manage to prove his criminality. So many innocent people languish in jail due to this manifest venality.

Although the instances I have recounted are from chaotic UP, in large parts of the country a similar story plays out with some variations. The heavy hand of the State is felt by ordinary people. The situation gets aggravated in conflict areas where there is not even a perfunctory attempt to appear impartial and just. During the height of militancy in Kashmir, hundreds of young men were whisked away on the alleged charge of being complicit with militants. Many of them died in custody or in violent circumstances, but those who managed to walk free were reportedly forced to pay for their release.

Similar stories have emerged repeatedly from the North-east. Dalits, minorities, the poor — they are almost always eternal victims of police atrocities and organized injustice. The government has been asked by the Supreme Court to reform the police force, but it has shown little attempt to make it a professional, modern and efficient force that is humane, pro-citizen and has respect for the rule of law. Indeed, when they talk of ‘reforms with a human face’, I presume the real reforms in India must begin with its police.

Sanjay Kapoor can be follwed on Twitter at sanjaykpr

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: JUNE 2013

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